by Tracy Johnson
\When is the last time you were out with friends and someone said: “I have a great idea. Let’s go to this new ice cream store I just found. They have the best vanilla ice cream”. You can’t remember that conversation because it’s never taken place, even if someone does happen to love vanilla. Vanilla doesn’t stand out. It isn’t a destination. It’s a fine flavor, but it’s just there. It’s common. Don’t be a vanilla radio performer. Personalities must take a stand to build a brand.
So many programmers work endlessly to be the best radio station they can be. We make adjustments to be better than the next guy. We tighten the format, tweak the clocks and tune in the music to eliminate potential irritants.
Those changes are good things. There’s nothing wrong with them. But most of the time, we’re just building a creamier vanilla.
In the movie Late Night, TV Talk Show host Katherine Newbury, played by Emma Thompson, faced declining ratings over a period of time. Her office is lined with Emmy Awards, but she has refused to compromise her standards (as she sees it). She’s performing the same show she has for 30 years. The president of the network (Amy Ryan) wants to replace Katherine with a Dane-Cook-type (Ike Barinholtz), whose “provocative” routines might give the show some juice.
Here’s the trailer:
Without giving away the storyline, Thompson’s character discovers how to perform her comedy with a perspective learned by being revealing her personality authentically. Only when she takes a stand and reveals her authentic self does the audience react. And she manages to show who she is, what she believes and how she feels with a sense of humor.
Radio stations can’t afford to just be good radio stations. Or even great radio stations. Nobody talks about how great you sound. They don’t tell their friends about a new jingle package or the $1,000 Text to Win contest.
Audiences are immune to small, incremental improvements that make us sound better, but not special. Audiences crave-no, they demand-someone that speaks to them, connects with them and causes them to care.
To make a difference, we must take a stand to build a brand.
That’s hard for many broadcasters because there’s risk. it may cause complaints. Someone may be offended. A few may even speak out on social media! And that’s scary for some.
It paralyzes programmers and personalities because nobody likes getting that email, text or phone call from an upset listener who was provoked by something you say on the air. That voice is loud! It’s hard to ignore.
Not all complaints should be ignored, of course. Some complaints are valid. But most should be evaluated with perspective.
I work with a Program Director of a very successful station in a major market that just hired a new, high impact morning show. In the first week, we’ve received a dozen or so complaints. And the PD is freaking out to the point of wondering if we have made a mistake and should consider a change. Even after just a few weeks!
Response is a good thing. Non-response is not. Haters can be good for your brand. The Yankees are the most loved sports franchise in the world. Or is it the Patriots? Or maybe the New Zealand All Blacks? Regardless, each team has a legion of those who despise the team. These brands inspire passion.
Weak broadcasters are obsessed with hanging onto the existing audience. They worry about losing listeners rather than aggressively building a fan base that can propel their future. It’s short-sighted. And it’s going to kill our industry.
Trying to avoid complaints leaves personalities in the Zone of Mediocrity. You won’t get complaints, but will inspire few if any passionate fans. After all, nobody really hates the Milwaukee Brewers. They’re a nice team. But it’s rare to hear someone planning a road trip to go out of their way to see them, isn’t it?
Radio’s future, and I argue, current, success depends on high profile personalities that inspire passionate communities of fans. That takes courage. It takes inspired leadership. And it takes a commitment to doing things differently.
In Late Night, Thompson’s character is in the center of a very difficult controversy, layered with complexity. She makes the decision to take a stand in a personal, authentic way. And she does it without losing her sense of humor. It’s very bold. This becomes the turning point in her return to late night media success.
In some of the smartest scenes, the show examines why jokes work, what makes a content go viral and the subtleties of comedy itself. But at the heart of it, you’ll find a personality that reveals her heart. Taking a stand is he fuel that makes it all go.
Watch this interview with Thompson and Stephen Colbert. If you’re in a hurry, pick it up from about 7:30 as Thompson tells Colbert about the scene where Thompson realizes she needs to change.
Don’t you love that line:
You have one critically important weapon, and that is laughter. Against the assault of laughter, nothing can stand.
Especially when it’s delivered by personalities that know who they are and what they are for.
If it’s been awhile since you’ve overheard a conversation about your radio station or personality, do something about it. Polishing the show or fine-tuning the station isn’t going to cause listeners to suddenly become excited about you. To do that, you must do something remarkable.
The Tracy Johnson Media Group can help you with that.
Why be vanilla, when you can be Rocky Road?
Take a stand. Be yourself. And do it with a sense of humor. Your audience will love you for it.
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